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The Great British Baking Show gets sloppy, silly, and even more delicious in “Dairy Week”

Even Prue can’t avoid double entendres during “Dairy Week”
Screenshot: The Great British Baking Show
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Sometimes it’s a spectacular single creation, like Paul Jagger’s bread lion. Sometimes it’s a personal breakthrough or achievement, like the many tear-inducing finales. Very rarely, it’s a meltdown—or as close as Baking Show gets to meltdowns—like the infamous #Bingate. The best episodes of The Great British Baking Show feature exceptional bakes and interesting challenges, but more importantly, they showcase the humanity and camaraderie of the bakers. “Dairy Week” does this in spades, highlighting the bakers’ considerable talents in the signature round, their sense of humor and pluck in the technical, and their creativity and personality in the showstopper round. Throw in Noel and Sandi’s delightful, personable hosting and some truly memorable judging, and you get one of Baking Show’s best episodes in a while, and certainly the highlight of the season so far.

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The series’ first-ever “Dairy Week” begins with a rather straightforward technical. The bakers must make a dairy cake, meaning a cake that uses some form of cultured dairy (yogurt, sour cream, or buttermilk) in its batter. It’s a bit of a stretch—surely there are other signature bakes more fitting the category?— but the recipes the contestants put together look delicious nonetheless. Surprisingly, the bakers are less up on their chemistry than usual; their educational and instructional asides are notably hesitant, and when Noel tries to whip up some enthusiasm at the 30 minute mark, the whole tent ignores him, everyone focused on their work.

Stress levels are high as the bakers turn out their cakes. Most are using shaped tins, which make for beautiful cakes with lots of nooks and crannies for sauces, glazes, and more. However if the tins haven’t been properly prepared, or are feeling temperamental, the cakes may not release, sticking to the inside of the pan. A sigh of relief flows through the tent as most of the bakers overcome this hurdle. Michelle is so focused on her cake, which looks to be in trouble, that when it does release, she carelessly knocks her tin into her decorative cake plate and breaks it, giving viewers one of the episode’s more entertaining early moments.

Michael is less fortunate. His risky cheesecake surprise bake tears right at the central cheesecake swirl when he tries to turn it out, forcing him to dig the top half of his bake out of the tin and awkwardly smoosh it back onto the rest of the cake. Despite these bobbles, the bakes more or less turn out well. Even Michael gets rave reviews for how his bake tastes, despite its messy look. Michelle, Phil, Priya, and Alice get a few mixed comments, but everyone else sails through the judging, complimented on their flavors and textures.

Michelle’s signature bake, about to lean over on her newly-broken cake stand
Screenshot: The Great British Baking Show
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Once everyone’s processed the good (or bad) news, it’s time for the technical. This time Prue has chosen the recipe, and in honor of dairy week, she’s gone with Richmond Maids of Honour tarts. The bakers must make 12 tarts, made from a rough puff pastry crust, a thin layer of lemon curd on the bottom, and a creamy cheese curd above, with a Tudor rose dusted on top in powdered sugar. These sound absolutely delicious, but likely a pain to make, especially in only two hours. Apparently this recipe was a favorite of Henry VIII, but none of the bakers are familiar with it. As Henry hilariously says, while calmly and patiently stirring his milk, “I haven’t made lemon curd before. I haven’t made rough puff before. Help.”

The technical round is where “Dairy Week” solidifies its tone. The signature round had a few slap-happy moments, with David and Sandi getting silly and sipping limoncello off a plate, Paul pocketing Rosie’s homemade limoncello for Prue, Michelle’s cake plate crack, and more. The technical, however, sees the bakers at a loss for words and bubbling over with nervous and exasperated energy. Many of the bakers are confident with rough puff, but they’re all stabbing in the dark with the cheese curds, construction, and bake for their Maids of Honour. Helena can’t get her pastry to work, and realizes too late that she forgot her water. Priya can’t get her lemon curd to set and is a solid 30 minutes behind everyone else. There’s no guidance on how big to make the tarts, and no one knows how to make a clear, neat Tudor rose stencil. Just a few tweaks to the instructions—and some more time—would have made all the difference in the results, but for quality television, the mix is just right.

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Perhaps because the signature round went pretty well all around, and because Michael does his best to power through and put a brave face on for the technical, the bakers respond to this technical not with frustration or despair, but with a matter-of-fact and even goofy attitude that makes the whole proceeding immensely entertaining. Michael and Priya’s exchange says it all: They may want to break down in tears of frustration or defeat, but they just don’t have the time.

When it’s time for judging, the energy boils over. Unlike previous epic across-the-board technical flops, this segment is fun and cathartic, rather than dispiriting. The judges find something positive to say about everyone and the bakers take their lumps with good humor. Even Helena’s completely wrong pastry at least tastes good, which leads to the one glaring misstep of the episode. Paul and Prue should have tasted Priya’s bake! She may have completely flopped, but she got something on the plate. There were one or two tarts that could have been tasted, and not at least trying what she managed to finish is extremely dismissive and condescending, and a break with the tradition of the show.

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Screenshot: The Great British Baking Show

After day one, Steph and David are neck-and-neck for Star Baker and Priya and Michael are in trouble, down at the bottom. It’s time for the showstopper, and the real reason for the episode’s theme. The bakers will be baking three different kinds of mishti, milk-based Indian sweets. They must make 12 of each and arrange them in a stunning display, the kind you’d see at a special event. Of the three, one batch may be made with condensed milk or other kinds of milk products, but two must be made by patiently cooking milk in a pot over low heat for hours.

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Sandi informs viewers in the voice-over that there are over 100 different kinds of mishti, and that variety is reflected in the bakers’ approaches. Some are fried, some are rolled, some are thickened custards, some are frozen. There’s plenty of room for creativity, and the results are whimsical and fun, allowing the bakers’ personalities to shine through. There’s also plenty of time, and only minimal stress that the contestants won’t be able to finish their work. The hosts, bakers, and judges all find time for ball jokes and other suggestive puns, including another great reaction shot of Henry, following Steph’s, “Henry obviously thinks size matters.” Everyone is more relaxed and when Henry runs into trouble with the freezer—one of his mishti fails to set in time, turning into soup on the plate—even he is able to stay good-natured about it, referencing his other two recipes, “At least my balls are firm.”

In the end, the bakers’ mishti turn out pretty uniformly delicious. Michelle gets mixed reviews on hers and Henry laughs through a dreadful critique of his melted mishti, but at least gets solid marks on his other two. Priya and Michael both get positive feedback, and suddenly the elimination field looks foggy. Unfortunately, Phil’s mishti underwhelm, an over-reliance on artificial flavoring and his simplistic stamped design putting him below the more nuanced and aromatic offerings from the other bakers. After getting high marks from Paul for his bread last episode, it’s Phil’s simpler approach to decoration and less than ideal flavors that send him home.

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On the other end of the spectrum, both Steph and David turn in excellent mishti, and after high marks for their signature bakes and coming in first and second in the technical, Steph manages to edge just past David to win Star Baker. Both have done well all season, and David is surely due Star Baker soon, along with Rosie, who continues to deliver flavorful, inventive bakes. “Dairy Week” goes to Steph, though, who sends the episode out on a delightful, fun note talking with her mom on the phone. The season has been good, but a bit familiar so far. If future episodes can sustain the energy, fun, and camaraderie of this episode, season 10 has the potential to be one of the best in the series’ run.

Stray observations

  • At this point, how is a blast chiller not a staple of the tent? With how frequently they get opened and closed, regular refrigerators and freezers are just not enough.
  • Speaking of Henry’s freezing woes, is it common for the show to spoil a showstopper fail this significant in the opening montage? I can’t recall them doing so previously, but it may not be a Baking Show first.
  • I’m not sure exactly when it started, but this episode highlights a habit of Prue’s that is utterly charming and infectious, the delighted laugh she sometimes exudes while tasting a particularly delicious bake. It’s an almost incredulous acknowledgement and celebration of just how good food can taste, and it’s incredibly endearing.
  • Speaking of endearing, these bakers are making it very difficult to pick a favorite! Michael had a leg up after last episode, and is wonderfully relatable here, “It’s just a cake. I know it’s just a cake. Can I jump in the river now?” Plus he jumps in with Phil to help save Michelle’s cake when her plate breaks. But Priya’s also wonderful, and Henry has a great sense of humor and his even head while his frozen mishti collapses is impressive. Helena is wonderfully kooky and her rapport with Noel is fantastic, Rosie keeps crushing it and flying just under the radar, and Steph, David, Alice, and Michelle all seem super competent and fun. There’s no wrong pick.
  • I’m skeptical of Roaring Twenties as a theme, but I wasn’t particularly hopeful about dairy either, and that turned out great, so we’ll see.
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